Staying Mentally Healthy in the middle of a Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit everyone hard. In the last one and a half years, most Malaysians have had their daily lives disrupted in a wide variety of ways. From being cooped up at home to constantly having to worry about contracting a deadly virus, the toll on their mental wellbeing is something that can often go unnoticed or ignored.
Human beings are such social animals that even introverts need the company of others. Having to undergo an extended period of staying at home deprived everyone the joy of social interaction with friends, extended family, and colleagues. This type of prolonged isolation is not the human condition. For many, life has been a much lonelier one and many experts agree that the true impact on the mental and emotional wellbeing of the populace has not been fully understood.
Then there is the effect of living in a state of constant fear with the threat of being infected with Covid-19. Chronic fear can lead to increased anxiety and a rise in stress levels even in healthy individuals. In most pandemics, the number of people psychologically affected far outnumber the number of people infected by the virus itself. Also, the effects of psychological stress can last far longer than the pandemic itself.
Some of the effects that chronic stress, anxiety, isolation, and fear can cause are as follows:
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns.
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
- Worsening of chronic health problems.
- Worsening of mental health conditions.
As we work from home away from the structure and social interaction afforded by the workplace, it is worth understanding the impact this could have and how to mitigate it.
Here are some healthy ways to improve mental wellbeing and adapt to the new normal created by this pandemic.
- Take a break from watching, listening, or reading to the news, especially social media. Constantly being barraged by the pandemic can only increase your stress levels.
- Continue to maintain a regular schedule when working from home. Wake up at the same time and try to create a dedicated space to work. Make sure that your workspace is comfortable with good seating posture or at a good standing height.
- Social distancing does not mean social isolation. Stay connected with your friends and family using video-chat platforms like Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangout. The virtual face-to-face interaction is far more beneficial than a phone call and will go a long way to keeping you connected. Share tips with co-workers and friends on what is working well for you and encourage them to do the same. Come up with new ideas. Have a virtual dinner with friends and family to be socially intact, connect with friends overseas to break the monotony, make it a point to talk to someone you have not connected with in a while. The sky's the limit on creative ways to stay connected.
- Remember, you are not alone in your feelings of fears and the uncertainty ahead and so talk to people you trust. Chances are they are feeling the same way. Keep your immune system strong by getting enough sleep, eating nutritiously, staying well hydrated and taking adequate supplementation.
- Ensure that you get a good amount of physical exercise. It turns out that physical activity does not only benefit your physical wellbeing but your mental wellbeing too. Different people will require different types of physical activity, but the general idea is to increase your heart rate, work up a sweat, and provide resistance to strengthen your muscles. Even if you are not in the mood for working out or exercising, just try and increase the number of steps you take in a day, do some active stretching, mobility classes, or even just stand while taking calls and attending Zoom meetings.
- Working from home can cause the lines between work and off-work times to get blurred. While it may feel inevitable, schedule out time in your calendar to take breaks, get some exercise, read a book, and spend time connecting with your family and friends. Setting boundaries can be a good defence against the creep of additional work loads and stress.
These are just a few ideas to help all of us combat the additional stress, anxiety, and fear that we are all feeling in some way or form. The idea here is not for these suggestions to be the only things you do but more to be aware that mental health is not something that is bulletproof. No one is immune to suffering damage to their mental wellbeing and self-awareness and vigilance is important to keep our psyches healthy. Probably the most important thing we can all do is to spend some time every week educating ourselves on mental health by reading relevant articles online from reputable sources.